by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
From the May, 2014 issue
My memories of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum begin in the old museum's preschool room, with my toddlers crawling on and around the big red fire truck, trying on different firefighter coats, and cooking up strange concoctions in the play kitchen. But as the children have grown up, so has the way we love our museum.
TechTwilight is an evening of nerdlicious fun for all ages featuring more than thirty local tech companies and nonprofits showing off their latest innovations and interactive technologies, sharing their excitement about science and technology with the community, and fundraising to support the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and its mission to educate young people about science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
As we walked up to the museum, we first encountered "The Digital Bus," a traveling co-working space and Internet cafe housed in a bright orange 1972 VW Bus. We stopped to check out the bus but ended up talking digital marketing and web design.
We passed the some homemade Segway-like creations in the lobby and skipped up the singing steps, pausing only long enough to play one favorite melody; then we entered the familiar space of the museum, now transformed by (more than the usual number of) techies and nerds. And robots! Yay, even the makers were there. Vibrant live music and the most amazing Southwestern food kept the mood bright.
Every room was filled with tables of tech stuff--some a messy jumble of wires and circuits, others exuding the cool precision of scientists in white lab coats, and everywhere a vibrant buzz of discovery. We built small rockets and launched them two at a time to see whose rocket flew the furthest. We watched Bristlebots battle each other and navigate mazes. We blew up balloons with baking soda and vinegar. We made molecules with toothpicks and marshmallows. We examined a deconstructed television set and computer. We watched interactive educational videos. We talked with longhaired techies in plaids about all the off-the-grid tech workshops
hidden around town where children and teenagers can get their hands dirty. There were labs where kids could dissect a squid, make slime, or make a stop-action animated film on an iPad. And experiment with dry ice. Dry ice is always cool.
As we walked out into the lengthening twilight, we kept hearing mechanical sounds, as if the evening was still following us. We finally turned and found that we were indeed being followed--by robots, also heading home after a long day of science fun.
This year's TechTwilight is May 16.
[Originally published in May, 2014.]
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